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Here's to the good old days, warts and all

Her nose was buried inside a paperback mystery.

My eyes were glued to the laptop.

The rhythmic clattering of a home besieged by a clogging problem futilely demanded attention from the TV set.

Could have been last night. Could have been the night before.

They all blend into one another these days.

A new voice from the television snapped the spell as it asked, “What’s the first thing you want to do once things get back to normal?”

“Sit in a coffee shop,” we answered in unison.

Simple pleasures are missed the most.

Just the thought of taking our coffee in a vessel not made of paper or plastic.

To be sitting at a table — where she could bury her nose inside a paperback mystery while I kept my eyes glued to the laptop — as the rhythmic clattering of baristas and customers barely registered in the background.

Of course, coffee shops have their own clogging problem, especially in winter when the weather forces a mad scramble for seats as traveling home offices are set up in the belief that a cappuccino with light foam comes with an entitlement to eight hours use of a chair and two tables.

Oh, to be in a line again where your place isn’t directed by arrows and dictated by a forceful, friendly reminder stuck to the floor.

The joy of being ready for your cup, only to start shifting your weight from one foot to the other as the customer at the register — themselves having waited for others to conduct their business — finally gets to order and decides that this is actually the time to scan the wall menu (which hasn’t changed the full 10 minutes you’ve all been waiting, as the balls of your feet start protesting and a student with a water glass and a half-dozen books spies an empty table to add to their office complex).

Order something, you want to command, but the best you can muster is an exaggerated eye-roll and a deep sigh that draws smirks from the already seated.

At least, you decide in this daydream of normalcy, you’re not waiting for a movie to start.

Ensconced next to the aisle, your butt planted on something vaguely moist and your shoes rendered immobile by something definitely sticky on the floor, you take stock of those arriving just as the lights dim.

Up, as a family of four with two jumbo popcorns slides down your row. Down, as the youngest steps on your foot. Up, as the mother heads out again for napkins and soft drinks. Down, as you sit on what (you hope) is a popcorn kernel.

The later the movie-goers arrive, the most upset they are at not finding the perfect seats. You watch the rows in front of you ascend and descend as though it were a wave tank. Mesmerizing, accompanied by mumbled apologies smothered by sound-proofing.

Finally, everyone is seated except the one guy who has decided to take this moment to remove his jacket as the trailers for coming attractions begin when the only distractions are the lights coming from cellphones active long past the polite pre-show request that is either snickered at or ignored.

At least, you say to yourself, you’re not at a sporting event, where the noise is perpetual and you long for that hazmat suit you packed away after the return to normalcy; or, worse, in a plane, sandwiched between passengers who hog both armrests, and stuck behind a fully reclined seat — all in the name of visiting far-away relatives who for a year have been Brady Bunched into boxes on Zoom, and from whom you’ll have to maintain political (if not social) distancing.

At least, you say in this hallucination of normalcy, if you are in a coffee shop or a movie theater, a stadium or airplane, you’re not at the office.

Ah, the office, where you mingle half-face to half-face with co-workers you haven’t set eyes on for days, for weeks some for months. Now back, gathered in one place, pulling together for the common cause — as long as that cause includes hanging over the walls of cubicles to discuss this pain they’ve been having in their foot; or popping up like whack-a-mole targets thinking/believing/hoping that any voice is speaking to them — while cellphones buzz and beep and bing in the background.

Back among rows of desks, as the rhythmic clattering of keyboards echoes through the room ... except for that one co-worker who grumbles to himself in critical terms, and types in machine-gun bursts, then pauses so long that you find yourself, against your better nature, waiting for it to start again.

OK that last one is me.

The office, where earphones can’t prevent you from being annoyed by the distractions you know are all about — and blindfolds don’t allow you to do your job, even if you’re a touch-typist.

Her nose was buried inside a paperback mystery.

My eyes were glued to the laptop.

The mere thought of life returning to normal has momentarily broken the spell.

Normal, where there are noises and aggravations and distractions and arm rest hoggers and stray popcorn kernels and people who finally make their way to the front of the line without having decided what it is they want for the love of God pick something.

Normal, that aggravating, disorganized, disruptive mess we call life.

How we’ve missed you.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin talks to himself (so you don’t have to) at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

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